At season’s end, the Alabama Crimson Tide will be losing a valuable piece of their current run of college football dominance, and Nick Saban will be losing his long-time right-hand man. Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart has agreed to return to his alma mater and become the next head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs, according to ESPN’s Mark Schlabach.
Smart is expected to remain at Alabama for the remainder of the season assuming the Crimson Tide advance to the College Football Playoff, per 247 Sports’ Charlie Potter. But eventually, Saban will have to find a replacement as the head of his defensive staff, and his first consideration should be Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.
Pruitt is one of several candidates being mentioned as Saban’s choice to fill the void left by Smart along with Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp and Alabama’s current secondary coach Mel Tucker. The common thread between those candidates is that all three have prior experience as a coach under Saban, which should be a priority in this decision. With the success Saban has had, it makes sense that he should look for a guy who is already familiar with his defensive system to avoid any transition problems.
Pruitt played defensive back for the Crimson Tide in the mid 90’s. After beginning his coaching career in the high school ranks, Pruitt served as an assistant to Saban at Alabama from 2007 to 2012, coaching the secondary from 2009 until taking the job as defensive coordinator at Florida State after the 2012 season.
Pruitt was a part of all three of Saban’s national championships at Alabama and also won a national title in his one season with the Seminoles. In that one season, Pruitt’s defense ranked third in the country in total defense and first in the nation in scoring defense, surrendering only 10.7 points per game.
After one season in Tallahassee, Pruitt returned to the SEC to accept the same position for the Georgia Bulldogs. Pruitt has continued to produce more quality defenses of his own at Georgia, especially in 2015 as his Bulldog’s squad ranks eighth in the country in total defense.
Another priority on the resumé of any potential Saban staffer is recruiting acumen. Alabama has become a recruiting machine in his tenure, racking up No. 1 classes year after year and stockpiling talent on the depth chart. One of the reasons for Alabama’s success on the recruiting trail is the relentless effort Saban requires from his assistants to go after the best high school players in the country. Whoever Saban chooses to lead his defense will have as much of responsibility to make up for Smart’s efforts off the field as he will on it.
That won’t be a problem for Pruitt, who has developed a reputation as an excellent recruiter. While at Alabama, Pruitt helped earned the signatures of current key Alabama players Derrick Henry, Jake Coker and Ryan Anderson. His efforts were enough to earn the title of 247 Sports’ 2012 Recruiter of the Year.
So let’s review the resumé:
Former Alabama player and assistant. Experience coaching under Saban. Part of four national championships at two schools. Two top-10 defenses in three years as a defensive coordinator. Elite recruiter.
Jeremy Pruitt is the perfect fit to succeed Smart and lead Alabama’s defense going forward.